Snail identification: new edition of FSC key

Robert Cameron’s excellent Key for the identification of Land Snails in the British Isles was published by the Field Studies Council in 2003, and a new edition came out towards the end of 2008. I was unable to resist getting the new one, despite being an infrequent recorder of snails who was quite happy with the old one! Was it worth it?

The new edition is not very different (e.g. 84 pages as opposed to the original’s 82, and this has only changed due to the inclusion of a few new references), but it does contain four additional species, some corrections and some updates to the nomenclature (scientific names), quite a few of which have changed. The four new species are:

  • Myosotella denticulata. This is very similar to M. myosotis, and they are both species of tidal standlines and edges of saltmarshes. Both key out at the same place, and Cameron doesn’t attempt to distinguish the two fully. Further information on separating these species is available in Roy Anderson’s 2008 checklist of UK non-marine Mollusca, which can be downloaded from the Conchological Society.
  • Balea heydeni. This has been split from the similar B. perversa, and it seems that the ‘new’ species B. heydeni is actually the commoner of the two in Britain and Ireland, so previous records of B. perversa will have to be classed as an aggregate of the two species unless they can be checked. Balea spp. can be found on trees and rocks (the first edition of the key rather intriguingly says that B. perversa [agg.] is often found in places with few other snails, but this descriptive text has been sacrificed for lack of space in the second edition).
  • Papillifera bidens. A Mediterranean species that has been introduced into Britain; the only confirmed records so far are from a National Trust property in Buckinghamshire. Superficially similar to other clausiliid snails but with a distinctive dark band and white spots running round the shell.
  • Cernuella aginnica. Another introduced species that has so far been found only in Kent, and is not thought to be widespread. It is very similar to the common C. virgata, and requires dissection to confirm (features described but not illustrated in the key).

The only one of these that people living away from the coast are likely to encounter is Balea heydeni, so if you already have the first edition you should be quite safe to continue using it. But if you’re keen to watch out for the latest introductions then the second edition is essential.

And if you don’t have the key at all I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in snails – it is a thorough and careful key, but very well laid out and easy for a beginner to get to grips with. I particularly like Robert Cameron’s introduction to using the key, which starts:

“Experience has shown that there are two extremes in reactions to keys. One is the expectation that a good key should lead simply to the right answer, even in the hands of a beginner. The other, sometimes expressed by experts, is that keys never work well, and that only face-to-face tuition by an expert works properly. The first view leads to frustration, or even despar. The second can have the effect of making identification an arcance professional preserve.”

Robert goes on to chart a middle course between these extremes, providing guidance on how to get the best out of using a key, and what limitations have to be borne in mind. He demonstrates this advice well in his own key.

OPAL soil and earthworm survey

The work I’m currently doing at the Open University’s Biodiversity Observatory is part of a much bigger project called Open Air Laboratories (OPAL). The aim is to encourage more people to find out about their environment, get involved with the science associated with environmental issues, and learn more about wildlife and conservation.

One of the (many!) activities that OPAL is promoting is a series of public participation surveys, and the first of these is now up and running. It is devoted to soils and earthworms. The survey asks you to select a suitable site, do some simple tests to assess the nature of the soil, and find and identify a range of common earthworm species. You’ll need to do a small amount of digging! The results are posted online and can then be seen on the survey map (some are appearing already).

In terms of biological recording, earthworms have been rather neglected in this country, perhaps surprisingly given our penchant for recording other rather obscure invertebrate groups, and at the moment there is no recording scheme nor published atlas for earthworms. The OPAL survey provides a well-illustrated Field Studies Council key to 12 common species of earthworm (download from the OPAL links given above), but if you want to take things further and look at the full range of species the Natural History Museum is seeking volunteers to undertake full surveys of worms in natural habitats. Training in the use of the full key by Sims and Gerard (1999, Synopses of the British Fauna, [currently out of print] UPDATE: now back in print) will be given. For further details of this, contact:
Dr David Jones, Soil Biodiversity Research Group, Department of Entomology, Natural History Museum, London, SW7 5BD. 020 7942 5706 or dtj [AT]

While we’re on the subject, there’s a lot of good information on earthworms at the UCLAN Earthworm Research Group, and some fun video footage of Lumbricus terrestris at ARKive.

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invertebrate recording schemes – call for atlas records

Three national recording schemes are currently collating records for their forthcoming national atlases, and have deadlines fast approaching. I managed to get myself sufficiently organised today to send off my records, so am feeling smug, and if anyone else has data to contribute I’m sure it would be very welcome.

  • Ladybird recording scheme: atlas due for publication in 2010, records accepted up until “spring 2009” (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) – if you can recognise a Seven-spot Ladybird you can contribute to this!
  • The Larger Brachycera recording scheme covers several families of Diptera (flies), including soldier-flies, horse-flies, bees-flies and a few others. Records needed “as soon as possible”.
  • The Centipede (Chilopoda) recording scheme also has an atlas in the pipeline – not sure of the timescale, but again all records are requested. Centipedes are not the easiest creatures to identify, but there is a very good recent Field Studies Council key to them, by recording scheme organiser Tony Barber.
Geophilus carpophagus

analysing county moth datasets

County moth datasets tend to be large and ‘messy’ affairs – messy in the sense that they are large aggregations of data from a variety of sources, collected using a variety of methods. Some people will run a mercury vapour trap all night long in their garden, several times a week; others will run an occasional actinic trap for a few hours on a nature reserve; others will just send in a few sightings of moths they’ve found by day. Is it possible to draw any overall conclusions about which moths are increasing or decreasing from this mass/mess of data?

In an attempt to look at this for the Berkshire moth database, I’ve set up some user queries for use in MapMate that compare numbers of records and of individuals of particular species against total numbers for the year. Full details and a download of the queries are here on my kitenet website. Here are the resulting graphs for Mottled Rustic, currently doing very poorly in Berkshire:

moths on the web – news update

Positioned somewhere on the sublime–ridiculous scale …

Not being too familiar with Killer Moth I consulted this review, “What is there to say about Killer Moth? He’s probably second only to Kite-Man as Batman’s goofiest foe … Killer Moth is a fairly standard figure, but his wings push his rating up a little higher.”

Ask your MP to support Butterfly Conservation

Butterfly Conservation are asking for help to ensure all MPs are aware of an Early Day Motion highlighting butterfly declines:

Members of Parliament have registered their alarm at the decline in butterfly numbers and said a big thank you to all the volunteers who participate in UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme.

More than 50 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion tabled by the MP Bob Russell, who represents Colchester and is a long-time Butterfly Conservation member.

It states that:

“This House registers its deep concern at the decline in the butterfly population, with numbers reported by the charity Butterfly Conservation to be at their lowest for 25 years, with the small tortoiseshell showing the biggest decline of 81 per cent; congratulates the thousands of volunteers who each year provide information for the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme operated by Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology; welcomes the comments of Sir David Attenborough, President of Butterfly Conservation, who is promoting an appeal to raise funds for the charity’s Stop Extinction Appeal; and calls on the Government to promote cross-departmental policies to assist in safeguarding Britain’s butterflies”

If you think this EDM should be supported, please check Early Day Motion 8 to see if your MP has signed, and if they haven’t ask them to do so.

A sample letter to MPs can be found via Upper Thames Branch of Butterfly Conservation

Find out who your MP is here

New key to plants

The long-awaited new “Vegetative Key to the British Flora” (by John Poland and Eric Clement) is nearing completion. BSBI are now advertising a pre-publication offer: if you order before the 17th April it will cost £20 inclusive, whereafter it will cost £25 plus p&p.

You can download a flyer for the book from the BSBI website (see the top-right-hand corner of the site).

The authors claim that (with experience) you’ll be able to identify most plants within 60 seconds! (personally I’d be happy if I could get somewhere near identifying most plants within 60 hours …)

revised MapMate user queries

Ages ago I circulated a set of MapMate user queries to extend the standard “Browse all records” query with extra details, including determiner, national status for rare species, some higher taxon classifications, etc.

I was recently asked to revise these queries, updating and slightly extending them. The revised versions can be downloaded here.

(see the fourth bullet point “SQL text (.txt file) for custom User Queries to browse records with additional details”)